by Tim Gilmore, 11/24/2017
Gilmore Cemetery lies beneath the pines near ancient Timucuan burial grounds. People lived here alongside the St. Johns River 5,000 years before a district of a city named Jacksonville bore my last name.
Next to such distances in time, it seems silly to refer to the settlement of Gilmore as “old,” since it dates back no further than the homestead of an Irish immigrant named Archibald Gilmore in 1885.
Gilmore Cemetery, the site of the old Gilmore train station, and the Mills Complex of Indian burial mounds form a scalene triangle that reaches along Fort Caroline Road to Gilmore Heights Road North to the bluffs along the river north of Rondette Lake.
Only three years after Archibald Gilmore bought 80 acres along the river, the Jacksonville, Mayport, and Pablo Railway began service between Jacksonville—today’s downtown—and Mayport where the St. Johns River opens into the ocean. Arlington area historian Cleve Powell believes the Gilmore train station was located along Gilmore Heights Road North where stucco and drywall suburban houses were built in the late 1990s.
The JM&P didn’t last long. It stopped operating in 1899 and was dismantled the following year.
In the Friday, November 1, 1940 issue of the long-defunct newspaper The Arlingtonian, its editor, W.F. Hawley, wrote of living at Gilmore an unspecified number of “years ago” and the rail line being “torn up” around 1900.
He’d told a Federal Writers Project interviewer named Rose Shepherd on June 24th that he grew up in New Orleans and came from Chicago to Jacksonville in 1886. The eponymous Hawley Cove opens out beneath the pines and camphors back along Gilmore Ridge by the river. He recalled the city’s air filled with the smoke of barrels of burning tar as a desperate attempt to kill the mosquitoes that spread the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1888.
Every Wednesday and Saturday night, Hawley says, he walked the old railbed northeast from “The Dock,” near the confluence of the Arlington River and the St. Johns, through the woods and sparsely populated communities, crossing the former Eggleston Station, misspelled on maps, to Verona to Gilmore Station. “The Dock” was located about where Turner’s Fish Camp was at the time of Hawley’s interview, where a concrete drainage ditch built from an ancient creek drops into the river from Rio St. Johns Drive at the time of this writing.
Train schedules from 1893 show the JM&P made this arc in 15 minutes. It took Hawley about an hour and a half to walk it. He walked across today’s Eggleston Heights, past the forested site of today’s Terry Parker High School southeast of Jacksonville University, across today’s Merrill Road and Townsend Boulevard, certainly well beyond the “town’s end.”
Though his story in The Arlingtonian doesn’t explain his biweekly nocturnal walks, Hawley told Shepherd he worked for the Jacksonville and Key West Railroad Company in town for 10 years and walked home to his wife Amy twice a week.
“I got myself over to East Jacksonville,” now the eastern portion of downtown, he explains, “mostly by walking, and a negro rowed me over to the Arlington [River] for 50 cents, and from there I walked the four miles to Gilmore.”
One night, as Hawley walked the old railbed back home, he thought of the news he’d heard that a “dangerous prisoner” had escaped a turpentine camp. The State and state-sponsored private companies regularly benefited from the free labor of convicted criminals then, an arrangement that dramatically increased with the rise of Jim Crow laws in the South, when, in systemic retaliation for the loss of slavery, the South regularly prosecuted poor or homeless black men for vagrancy.
Hawley says nothing specifically about this prisoner, who he was or what made him dangerous, but clearly Hawley made his regular night walk with extra vigilance. Every shadow moved in some way it shouldn’t. His alert imagination found subtle threats in slight noises in the underbrush alongside streets and creeks. Most wild things never let people see them, and people seek dark shelter, for their own wilds, from certain exposures of light.
That dark night, Hawley writes, “while opposite Eggleston I ran into a colored man and we both sat down. I was badly scared and I think the other fellow was too.”
Rather than automatically assuming the stranger the escaped convict, Hawley feels an instant camaraderie in the unlit wooded night. The night woods were a white’s terror almost as much as a black tramp’s, but the white newspaper editor opens up instantly to the black wanderer in the woods between Jacksonville and Gilmore.
The two men, lost in the woods in silence, shared a momentary closeness, somewhere in the landscape the map of Arlington no longer represents, out in the sentient flow of spaces the gridlines of suburban subdivisions fail to acknowledge.
“He struck a match,” Hawley writes, “and enabled me to pick up my bundles, and he started for town and I for home.” The “negro” stranger left the Gilmore swamps and headed toward the river and into the city center, but the closer Hawley came to home, the more he feared the stranger hiding in the forested seeps around Gilmore.
Hawley walked the railbed across Boggy Branch, now known as Mill Creek, “and as I approached the swamp,” he writes, “I heard stealthy footsteps coming through the water.” In the ill-lit line where the train once charged, a strange form grotesque with bulging eyes lumbered out from the density of trees. Hawley recalls being “greatly relieved when an old cow came up on the railroad bed.”
Early 1890s JM&P railroad schedules indicate a station, three stops oceanward from Gilmore, called “Indian Mound,” though the Timucuan burial mounds located in the settlement of Gilmore received at first no public attention.
Nevertheless, James Shields, one of the Gilmore settlement’s four main original landowners, noticed something strange about the bluffs that rose above the river on his homestead. What seemed at first a natural hill formation revealed itself in 1894 and ’96 to archaeologist Clarence B. Moore as a major composite of hundreds, if not thousands, of years of Timucuan Indian culture. A fuller understanding of what’s now known as the Shields Mound required another century. Archaeologists now know Shields Mound to be a dense Timucuan burial site, excavations of which have granted new understandings of the Timucuan conceptions of death, of relations between this world and the afterlife, and of ancient Florida’s respect for and treatment of the dead.
Further down Fort Caroline Road beside the St. Johns, off Rio Cove Drive, Gilmore Cemetery’s gates stand occluded from the pavement. Just as unknown graves fill every instance and distance of landscape in any and every direction, the graveyard gates fit neatly into the oaks.
One wrought iron fence hangs crooked and roped upright to another. The land slopes down from the safe, secure, and contemporary suburban road. Graves drain into creeks. City government, operating here outside the city core, converts creeks and streams to sewage or storm runoff. The dead slide and elide downhill to major arteries and streams and bloodways and neural paths across pathologies that interface people and cities.
So the headstones of Gilmore narrate the community through this landscape and time.
Here’s the grave of Archibald Gilmore himself, who first arrived from Ireland in New York, New York in 1847, 15 years old. His epitaph notes his having fought for the Union in the Civil War, Company D, Fifth New York Infantry. He died in 1910.
Jane Gray’s grave is easier today to read. She too immigrated from Ireland. Jane Stuart Gray Gilmore bore Archibald seven children. Jane, Margaret, Letitia and Archibald, Jr. were born in New York, and John, William Thompson, and Andrew were born outside Savannah.
William T.’s horizontal gravestone with its hand-marked epitaph tells us he lived to be 13, but not how he died.
Dr. Auburn Thomas Guznor’s or Cuznor’s or Cuzner’s remains lie here too. Different historic documents spell his name variously. He treated William Hawley for Yellow Fever during the great 1888 outbreak and experimented with herbs and fruit trees he grew on his 74 Gilmore acres, searching for a cure for cancer.
Then come the narratives hidden within the story of the community, invisible lives who, in unknown ways, alter the spacetime of this place. One small square says only, “BOY UNKNOWN,” no dates. Eight small square markers in a line laid flat into the ground say, “J GILMORE INFANT.”
The repetition marks perpetual heartbreak for unknown years as the parents of these infants keep giving more infants the same name—
eight JGilmores—JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant JGilmoreInfant—living the briefest of lives, somewhere out in these green and tree-laden hills.
Gabriella tells me she’s lived “a few hundred feet” from Gilmore Cemetery all 16 years of her life, “but never once ventured into the graveyard to find out who lives there.” She’s always said she lives in the part of Jacksonville known as Arlington, “unknowingly part of the widely unknown history of Gilmore.”
cont’d as Gilmore: 2. Dead End at Grant Mound